Siberia, August 16, 1999
A few reasons to skip Ekaterinburg for the glory of Novosibirsk
|I've crossed into Siberia, but not without the hassles that
make life in Russia so, um, interesting. The Russian Railroad, not know for
innovative activities, runs on a peculiar logic I' still trying to figure
out. Let's take the simple idea of time
In every train station there are several clocks to tell travelers what time it is, so they can be ready to catch their specific trains. All these clocks, whether the station is in Volgagrad, Toglatti, Ekaterinburg, or Vladivostok, show Moscow time. Luckily, all the trains run on Moscow time too, but it gets quite confusing the farther east you go.
In Ekaterinburg, two hours ahead of Moscow, ya have to add two hours onto each train departure time (on top of checking the day or season the train runs) to figure out which train is yours. Then, when your preparing to leave, ya have to remember that your hotel clocks are two hours faster than the train station clocks, or you'll be waiting a long time at the Ekaterinburg station. Oh, but first, you have to get to Ekat!
Two days ago I was standing in the Kazan train ticket hall, looking for a good train to Ekaterinburg, when it dawned on me that there were no trains to Ekat. Yep, I checked all the names again, and not one to Ekaterinburg. How could that be? Both cities (Kazan and Ekat) are on main Trans-Siberian lines. Both are major cities outside of Moscow. Why are they not connected by rail?
Just before I started to loose it, I asked a local and learned the secret. In the Soviet days, Ekaterinburg was called Sverlosk, and so the train schedules have kept the Soviet name, even though the city reverted to its historical name around eight years ago! Maybe the railroad is still in shock that the Soviet system is gone?
Once I made it to Ekat, I was in shock. I'd heard how beautiful the city was. How cool the locals were, and how I should definitely spend a bit of time checking the place out. Maybe it was the midnight arrival, maybe it was the odd placement of the train station behind a row of apartments, or maybe it was the glue-sniffing kids following me down the street, but I was not impressed with the city one bit.
Even the main historical event in the city, the killing of the Tzar and his family by Yakov Sverdlov, is neither that pleasant of a memory or that pretty of a sight, when compared to Kazan's walking street or Samara's beaches. Luckily, I didn't stay in Ekat very long, since my next stop, Novosibirsk, turned out to be quite a gem in the middle of Siberia.
Now I must take up with the Lonely Planet Russiawriters their odd bias against Novosibirsk. Of all the Siberian cities, I've liked it the best so far. Yes, it is a Soviet city, big, gray, and imposing. Yes, it has little history, only really growing since the 1920's, and yes, I tried not to think about those big, spewing smokestacks just outside of the city, but it still felt like home.
I guess it's the resemblance to Moscow that I liked the most. The grand avenues, with cars zooming past an oversized Lenin, the tall buildings creating comfortable canyons at street level, and the great beach with a serious volleyball competition, all reminded me of summer dayz I spent chilling in Russia's capital.
Ah, memories! Time to pull away from the computer and go make some more!